Catholic Church in Canada faces scrutiny over abuse

The Globe/May 13, 2002
By Gay Abbate

As a sex-abuse scandal involving Roman Catholic priests rocks the United States, a burgeoning string of revelations about Canada's shameful history suggests the crime has been just as rampant on this side of the border.

Allegations involving a priest who moved from Nova Scotia to Orillia, Ont., expanded over the weekend and the man is now being implicated in pedophile activities with four children.

As in the United States, Canadian survivors charge that the church in Canada simply shuffles abusers around -- sometimes to another country -- when their misdeeds come to light.

"Nothing will change until the church does something. So far, it's done diddly squat," said an angry John Caruso, who was abused by Rev. James Kneale in Fort Erie, Ont., in 1985. Mr. Caruso filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the priest, who was relocated after his 1999 conviction. In a bizarre twist, Father Kneale has sued Mr. Caruso's parents, claiming they were at fault for allowing their son to spend time with him.

In Orillia, the diocese asked parishioners at the Guardian Angels Church to pray for Rev. Hugh MacDonald.

The diocese called the allegations against Rev. MacDonald a "painful situation."

Nova Scotia police launched an investigation after the 79-year-old priest was implicated in a suicide note left by David Martin, 39. In it, he accused the priest of sexually abusing him two decades ago.

Two other men and a woman have told police in the past few days that they, too, were abused by Father MacDonald as children.

In a news release read yesterday in Guardian Angels Church in Orillia and in other area parishes, the diocese explained that Father MacDonald no longer lives in the parish rectory pending the outcome of canonical and police investigations.

The statement asked the faithful to also pray for Mr. Martin's family and stated that all mass cards and prayer messages for Father MacDonald will be forwarded to him. The church has not revealed his whereabouts, but he is believed to be somewhere in Ontario.

When the scandal broke in the United States, Canadian bishops believed they had cleaned up their own problems and began advising their U.S. counterparts on how to deal with the issue.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that much has changed in the decade since the bishops adopted the recommendations of a 1992 report. The document was commissioned after a scandal at the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland, where several priests were found guilty of sexually abusing boys. It set out procedures to deal with the sex-abuse problem.

One of the recommendations called for the screening of candidates for the priesthood. Rev. William Kokesch, speaking for the Conference of Catholic Bishops, said those seeking to study for the priesthood are required to undergo psychological testing. The aim is to weed out undesirables.

In contrast to the past, the church now immediately removes priests from their duties once accusations are made. It also reports to police any allegation involving complainants who were minors at the time of the alleged offences.

The bishops are reviewing the 1992 report to see what needs improving, Father Kokesch said.

Screening is a good tool, but it alone is not enough because dioceses act independently of each other, although every diocese adopted the guidelines, said Elizabeth McKenna, who successfully sued Rev. Francis Reed, a Sault Ste. Marie priest who sexually assaulted her over a 10-year-period. The church settled out of court.

Although some survivors say the crisis is worse in Canada than south of the border, Father Kokesch said it is unlikely that this country could see a situation like that in the United States, where the church is facing dozens of criminal and civil suits arising from allegations of sexual misconduct.

If some priests are sexually abusing children now, by the time they are adults and come forth to lodge complaints, their number will be small because of the steps the church has taken in the past decade, Father Kokesch said.

No one knows the extent of the problem in Canada because church records are not public. It would require every diocese to open its files to piece together a total picture of the extent of abuse by priests.

Also cloaked in secrecy is information about the number of lawsuits against priests and dioceses. The church routinely imposes a gag order on settlements.

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